Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review – 8/10

Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review – 8/10

(The isekai game for non weebs and full on Otakus)


Yakuza: Like a dragon is the 7th instalment in the Yakuza franchise. The numeric is dropped here as this game was meant as a “fresh start” for the franchise. Though when it eventually happens, Yakuza: Like A Dragon 2 does not roll of the tongue so well as Yakuza 7 or Yakuza 8 would but for this young-ish adventurer (Hey 30 is still young) that’s where the problems end for this wonderful game.

A quick backstory: Hi, I’m Aidan and I like JRPGS and RPGS and Isekai anime and anime in general. So, it will come as no surprise to hear I really liked this game. The previous entries into the franchise never gelled with me.  It was far too stoic, macho, grandiose and had a sense of glorification of what is a criminal organization, deeply rooted in Japanese culture and history. Yakuza:LAD (Like a Dragon) on the other hand is fun and upbeat, even when it gets serious, and is mostly a tale about how Ryu Ga Gotoku studios (the developer) is also growing out of this Mafia glorification.

The Yakuza franchise so far is about 2 things.

  1. Real time melee combat with over-the-top brawler musou fighting.
  2. Japanese gangsters making their way through this crazy world.

Yakuza: LAD here changes the formula for thing 1 and instead is a JRPG style-turn based action game with full JRPG elements. Yes, this is still set in the real world, Japan. You are still a human. You can shoot fire, ice and lightning at your enemies. [Nani??]

Playing this title felt almost absurd, being a man who imagines not only himself, but his enemies as more than they are. Using fire and lightning to deal damage or summoning a cat for some quick AoE damage. The game spends a total of 1 minute covering how this could happen. Right near the start and in fact it is Ichiban himself who apparently notices things suddenly changed when they got into a fight.

Here’s a clip (SPOILER VID) but also not really a spoiler because it happens early on…

As for thing 2. Well, you’re still a Yakuza. Ichiban himself seems to be stuck in this limbo of honouring the mentor and friends he had in the mafia whilst making new friends (and enemies) and making something of himself, beyond a typical Yakuza “clan”. Minor spoiler: You (Ichiban) were in the Yakuza, some s**t went down. Now you’re on your own with only your wits, fists and the same suit you arrived in. The series here seems to commit fully into this “fresh start” idea and the main character, mirroring the studio, is honouring the past while forging on into the future.

Forging onto this Review

Here at Shadownet we try to focus of what we call the 3 pillars of gaming:

The Narrative, the Presentation and the Gameplay. By which we would judge a game on it’s merits and faults but ultimately let you decide if you want to play it. We are providing a number score, however the overall score is more a measure of all 3 parts then averaged. Some things have more “weight” than others but ultimately it should be you who decides, while we share our experience here.

First up, how good is the story:

The Narrative

Our hero [Yuusha] for this tale is Ichiban Kasuga. As a kid he loved the Dragon Quest games and thus a lot of what you see on screen during battles or traversing the world is all based off things you would find in a Dragon Quest game. Including the title “Like a Dragon (Quest)” [ah see, now you get it]. However, this is also a play on the protagonist of the previous instalments as he was called “the Dragon of Dojima” and so to us, and anyone who’s played a Yakuza game before, Ichiban is trying to be “like” him (whether he knows it or not)

The plot for Yakuza: LAD is nothing note worthy as it is the same plot from the first Yakuza game. Gangster goes to jail> is released after a long time > has troubles> fights to fix problems. Standard.

The setting for this go-around is the city of Ijincho. This is a new one for the franchise which primarily existed in Kamurocho before this but is just as wacky as the last. The game starts you off as Ichiban the homeless man. To explain any further would be to spoil major early plot points but it is a fitting way to have your RPG character start off at Level 1 and be explained by the story.

What sets this one apart from the previous instalments is plainly just Ichiban himself. As a character I found him to be so full of life and, compared to Kiryu (see Yakuza 0 – 6) is much more joyful and hilarious. Ah Ichiban is the most “anime” character I have ever seen in a video game. From his expressions to his sparse choice of words. There is no comedy in this without him. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a Yakuza game and has just as much wacky stuff as the previous ones, but we came in expecting that. Ichiban comes in with such a fresh pair of eyes that he reminds us why this is funny.

For example, on more than one occasion a side mission will be clearly marked for you to do. Upon talking to the NPC and learning why this man is standing naked in the street covered in soapsuds, asking us to help him find clothes, Ichiban simply replies “ah…ok good luck with that.” and proceeds to walk away. Clearly not wanting to get into whatever this guy is about. Though this is a video game, so we end up helping him anyway.

Another quest has you fetch milk-powder for a man who just ran out of formula and is stressed due to the clear crying you can hear from the apartment block above. Simple, wholesome request. You bring this to him and help him take it up stairs, only to find out the crying was actually coming from a group of fully grown men wearing diapers! All clearly in the middle of a nursing fetish session! so being a yakuza game, you fight them all then unlock the boss as a summon…yeah…

Comedic interactions are the norm for this game and most side-missions are clearly never things that would happen in real life. A major side-mission (more sub story) is a business management game. Where you, a homeless man, become the CEO of a cookie store and take this simple stall to the hights of a multi-million-dollar company…. All the while still being homeless.

The world of Ijincho is one you will continually find yourself coming back to as you go through your everyday lives. The joy of being Ichiban and discovering all this city has to offer is one of the best immersive experiences I have had in a Yakuza game or any game about real life. Period. Yakuza: LAD leans heavily into the fact that this is a video game and as such should want you to play it.

I give the Narrative experience a solid 6/10

With that it’s time to talk about the mechanics:

The Gameplay

As I mentioned Yakuza: LAD is a turn based JRPG combat style game. You and your party set out into the world to fight monsters, earn gear and level up to take on the next big boss waiting at the story checkpoint.

You control Ichiban for most of the game but as a turn-style combat you control each character individually when the turn comes. There are also multiple “jobs” you can play as. Cleverly organised into the story by your rag-tag group going to a careers office to look for work. The job rolls are labelled as very close to normal jobs as a video game could: Hostess, Bodyguard, Hitman. While some are more obscure like: Break-dancer, Idol, and Fortune-teller. To name a few. The “magic” elements come into play with these jobs as class specific abilities. Though some can me unlocked as cross-class abilities.

For example; the hostess uses a large champagne bottle to shoot out Ice attacks and the Homeless man role uses his stench to de-buff enemies. The incorporation of the JRPG elements was very well thought out and has you spending a fair amount of time changing jobs to unlock the best cross-class skills and best team composition for that “ultimate build”. The problem here however is certain roles are gender specific (only men can be breakers and only women can be idols) and not all classes have AoE (area of effect) abilities. In fact, most attacks and abilities are 1-on-1, even though you would face 3-5 enemies at a time. Not to mention there is a more ‘active field’ in combat so enemies, and your party, sort of shuffle around during the fight. Making an AoE ability either only hit half or 1 enemy of that party member is not the first to attack.

The enemy encounters themselves are kind of hilarious, well at least at first. As a group of men (never women mind you) are wondering the street looking for trouble, like monsters in a JRPG, and when you start the battle they suddenly change into a more ‘real-looking’ monsters from any JRPG game, name and all.

A burly man in a suit suddenly became a “Knight of the Cask”. A drunk man who seemed to have picked up a rubbish lid as a shield and tied his necktie around his head. My Favourite early on was “Hungry Hungry Homeless” and later a staple “Garbage bag man” simply a man wearing a garbage bag, who as an ability, rummages in his bag for something to throw at you.  Combat is kept varied just by the randomization of the enemy that you may face but quickly becomes a chore.

I mentioned summoning a cat earlier. I don’t lie. Here’s a clip (because a picture is a 1,000 words but a video is a novel)

Later in the game you find yourself locked out of story missions and even failing boss encounters because you are 5-8 levels below the recommended level. This then requires you to grind out a dungeon (the literal sewers) multiple times looking for those rare enemies called Infested Vagabond; the metal slime of Yakuza: LAD, for a boost in Exp. As standard encounters don’t give you much after a while. Here’s an image with some ridiculous exp I managed to farm with a dungeon encounter with one of these special enemies.

(small spoiler with the bottom 3 companions- SORRY)

I will go so far as to say the fun grinds to a halt at this point. Not once, but 4 times! We have to grind levels 4 times in this game with the final 3 and 4 times being the hardest slog of the game. Unfortunately combat itself is not nuanced or exciting as you try to dish out your best AoE for the groups and then focus fire. Rinse and repeat. Dungeon run number 4,5,6.

This took what was an exciting new battle system for the franchise and turned it into the worst parts of RPGs in general; the grind. The story exp and random encounters after 40 hours of playing are not enough to get you through some particular story boss’s and so you end up asking yourself, why??

The game flowed so well up until this point. Side missions and sub-stories don’t even offer you exp! Instead, they give you personality stat increases, summons (as mentioned before with the boss baby) and items.

There is a sub mechanic to how Ichiban in particular uses his abilities or interacts with people; his personality stats. Charisma, Kindness, Style etc. are all stats that only Ichiban can use or gain. Some of these directly affect the potency of your abilities and how companions interact with you (especially romance)

This all turned what would have been a solid 50–60-hour RPG into an annoying 65–80-hour game with a grind for exp, money and items to better handle straight story fights. Yes, there are other aspirational activities as well but are only unlocked through story.

The Gameplay is the biggest draw of the game and besides the grind, which is to be expected (though not so forcefully) I rate it 8/10

Lastly, this game is a beaut:

The Presentation

I played this on my xbox series x in 1080p with locked 30fps as I chose visual over performance. As a turned based game (with typical yakuza length cutscenes) all you need is 30fps. The people look almost real, and the lighting is top-notch. Yakuza games have always tried to look as close to real as possible, without being too much but this is done wonderfully. The visual effects in combat are excellent and flashy. This is a wonderful “next-gen” look at what the Yakuza franchise will present to us in the future. If you go back and play the older Yakuza games after this, you will think you just turned on a PS2 (even the Kiwami versions)

The cut-scenes are wonderfully crafted but make no mistake, this is a Yakuza game. The conversations are wordy! Be comfortable when you tackle the story beats of this game. Set some time aside to watch that cut scene play out as you could be there a while. I would even go so far as to say that half my game time is spent sitting there watching them all talk. The action is definitely all in the combat.

The environment is less of an open world and more of a medium sized map that is littered with things to do or see. Places to eat to get buffs or activities to do to earn upgrades, items and money. There are 3 maps, and each is deeper than it is sparse. So many doors and even side-quests lead you into world all their own. The cinema mini game was a joy as you force Ichiban to stay awake and the kart racing is a pure riff of Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Neither of which can be seen by opening the map. Living in this city is the only way to appreciate it and is an experience that would be lost if only watching a play though online. The story IS the city. 

Yeah not much to say on this aspect. it ran smoothly and looked amazing. it’s no Witcher of GTA worlde but it servbes the game well. 7/10

Final remarks

The surface of Ijincho looks like a normal cityscape but underneath the apartment blocks, food stalls and slums, is an mystical JRPG that has you feeling like playing the protagonist of an Isekai anime. Only because there is no way any of this would be real! It is an absurd game that never takes itself too seriously, even when the story talks about death and pain. This is all thanks to our hero Ichiban Kasuga. Who takes a beating at every turn but still gets up with a smile on his face and demands respect from his enemies, only giving them the same and kindness in turn. Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a joy to play, even if it forces you to grind to appreciate it. I hope for the next instalment they reduce the grind or even almost remove it entirely and allow for the story and sub-quests to ‘lead you’ to the best of your character. So many moments had me grinning from ear to ear as the natural comedy flowed perfectly. The residence of the city and my companions made every trip worth walking, rather than taking a taxi (the fast travel system) as there was at random times some banter between us all after walking past an old restaurant or hostess bar (this is a Yakuza game after all) There is so much more that could be said about Yakuza:LAD but the best way to know what it’s hiding is to play it.

With so many games being “open-world” or “games as a service” nowadays, it was nice to play something new that felt like something old.

8/10

終わり(The End)
またお越し下さいませ!!~ (Please come again)


UwU
Aidan Rehman
Aidan Rehman
Host, Writer, Dad.

Instagram: @aidan_shadownet Twitter: @peonaidan

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